Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Some of you saw the news stories and viral video of a man who was punching and tapping the seat of a woman in front of him on an airplane. Evidently, according to CBS Los Angles who interviewed the woman, the man behind her had asked if she would not recline her seat as he ate. She kept her seat upright for about 10 minutes then reclined as she has a back condition. Because he was in a seat that did not recline, he did not like that, and began to hit her seat enough that it jostled her head. Neither would relent. When she requested the help of a flight attendant, she was issued a formal warning, with the potential to be escorted off the airplane. So, who was in the wrong? According to a news poll, 70% of people side with the woman that man was in the wrong, and 30% side with the man. What do you think?
It reminded me of an incident I encountered about a year ago. I was on my way into the cleaners when a group of high school students was passing by. They had evidently just walked over from their high school and were heading into, or coming out of, one of the shops along this strip mall. They were laughing and talking, and, though I could not tell what they were talking about, all of a sudden, the tone of the conversation changed. The laughter had stopped and you could see furrowed brows, pursed lips, folded arms, and harsh words began to fly. The pack of students stopped and things seemed to escalate. Finally, one girl in a firm but gentle tone said nicely to the whole group, “Why do you have to be mean?” The little crowd stopped speaking and stared at the girl. It was an awkward silence only broken by a guy who blurted out, “I’m going for a smoothie, anyone want to join me?” Someone laughed and the group moved on. As I finished my errand at the cleaners I noticed they were all hanging out laughing at the smoothie shop. That one girl’s comment seemed to change the whole tone of the moment they shared together.
In light of the airplane incident, I wish someone would have called out, “Why do you have to be so mean?” in all cases: the man, the woman, and the airline attendant. Now, sure we don’t know all the details, but why could they not have been kinder and worked it out or been willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of another. It’s tough when we see people get in to it with another person and, out frustration, say something snarky or cutting, or be obnoxious. Why do we people have to be so mean?
The wisdom of God challenges us with our words.
Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
‘Unwholesome talk’ is mean speech that tears others down, venomous words that are intended to inflict pain. Unfortunately, it seems so natural to say mean and hurtful things. Yet, God challenges us to the opposite.
Psalms 141:3 Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Proverbs 17:27-28 The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.
Colossians 3:8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Proverbs 15:4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
Proverbs 21:23 Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.
Psalms 19:14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Romans 12:16-19 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Yes, our words and actions matter. What we say and do makes a difference and, though it seems common and acceptable to send a biting tweet, lash back with a well-placed retort, or be more aggressive in what we say or do, a gentle answer and being kind actually has the greater influence. It does take us thinking before we speak, but if we do, it might change the whole atmosphere of your office, home, school, friendship, or marriage. So be careful with your words.
Church can be a place where we learn and practice uplifting speech. If you don’t have a church you regularly attend, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church/Neighborhood Church (same church, same heart, just a new name). We have three campuses; our website has all the information you would need. Every Sunday we learn from the Bible and seek to know God more. We would love for you to join us. Here is our website: http://www.cypresschurch.net. You can even attend one of our live-streaming services (see http://live.cypresschurch.net/).